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ATA sees independent contractor battle moving to national platform

CEO Chris Spear warns possibility of a Bernie Sanders-led Labor Department could shift battle away from individual states

ATA spelled out post-election priorities at NAFC virtual meeting. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) is expecting the issue of independent contractor status to shift from a state-by-state strategy to a national agenda under a Joe Biden administration.

“I anticipate changes from the regulatory side and executive-order side under a Biden administration, and a U.S. Department of Labor possibly led by Bernie Sanders, who has shown an interest in being secretary of labor,” said Chris Spear, speaking at the ATA’s National Accounting and Finance Council annual conference Monday.

“If that happens, it becomes less a patchwork of states, but a national agenda, and it’s something we’re going to have to fight directly in Washington.”

The Trump administration recently proposed new guidelines for employee classification that were largely seen as making it easier for employers to classify workers as independent contractors.

Spear, who was providing a post-election regulatory update for attendees, anticipated making actual independent contractors available to make the case in support of independent contractor (vs. company employee) status in front of regulators.

“I’m kind of viewed as the evil employer who wants to deny people health insurance and benefits,” Spear said. “It’s not true, but as an employer, it’s easy for the decision-makers to cast us in that light. We have to take that argument away. Putting the actual driver, the actual independent contractor in front of them who say they like the flexibility or whatever their reason — it should be coming out of their mouths.”

Spear said ATA is keeping close watch on the outcome of the two U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia. Just one of the two elections needs to remain in Republican control for Republicans to retain control of the Senate.

“Having the Senate remain Republican is absolutely essential in my opinion,” Spear said, relative to Democrats controlling the U.S. House and the White House. “It maintains balance and it forces the two sides to come together in the middle. I firmly believe that’s good for the country.”

That balance will be important when the two chambers begin debating a new infrastructure bill, which Spear believes will be one of the first issues confronting the new Congress. How to fund highways and bridges will be — as usual — the central question.

“Clearly it’s not going to be paid for by truck-only tolls,” Spear said. “We’ve been making the case that infrastructure needs to be funded for the next 10 years through the fuel tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993. We determined it needs to be raised 20 cents, 5 cents a year over four years that will raise $340 billion over the next decade. That’s plenty of money to fund roads and bridges for the next 10 years.”

Paying for infrastructure raises the prospects for truck tolling — and litigation such as ATA’s fight over tolling in Rhode Island. “We litigated that successfully though federal court, and now we’re at a point where we’re going to go to trial, probably by end of January or early February,” Spear pointed out. The Rhode Island tolling litigation will cost the ATA roughly $2 million, he said, and the association has so far raised close to $700,000 toward paying for it.

“If we do not win this, other states — Connecticut, New York, Indiana, even Wyoming — are looking at a tolling scheme like this to help fund their infrastructure projects. We cannot allow that to happen.”

Other issues Spear outlined on ATA’s policy agenda in 2021 include potential changes to minimum insurance premiums, tax reform, meal and rest break laws, and progress on the use of hair testing to screen drivers for drugs.

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  1. Jon

    Under the biden administration the freight index as we know will be in the gutter. Trump administration is the key to success in trucking. As far as pay goes its far from were it should be. Hourly rate or percentage. Mileage pay is under rated . The economy will tank under the new green deal . Truckers for trump most companies have come along away in equipment yes i agree there needs to be more room in them alot more room drivers have stay gone longer to make a dollar. So more Amenities are needed.

  2. Aleshia

    Why don’t trucks have adequate space for a toilet, regular sized small refrigerators and microwave? You’ll always talking about everything but the basics. I remember that article about alternative fuel. Now it’s independent vs company driver. What about the truck’s flawed design??? Do you’ll even consider the trucker? I know that it’s not rocket science because I’ve envisioned on many occasions that my truck was built with me in mind and it doesn’t require more space…just more functionality to the layout. And what about considering a minimum pay per day for truckers. I hate hearing over and over again about truckers getting raises. Then their miles get cut. It’s not right. If you’ll can get guaranteed pay for showing to do your job, so should truckers. At least 20% of the load.

    1. Stephen Webster

      30 percent of the load at least on payroll with medical care All O T R truck drivers should make at least $21.50us per hour or _$1,200 on a 6 day week plus medical coverage.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.